Monday, October 18, 2010

Arts and Cognition: More Hints of the Relationship

Isadora Duncan performing barefoot. Photo by A...Isabella Duncan via WikipediaWhy has arts training been associated with higher academic performance?  The Dana Foundation has brought artists and neuroscientists from seven universities together to try and answer this question.  Their recently completed study shows a number of tantalizing correlations between the arts and academic performance:
 
An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.
2. Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.
3. Specific links exist between high levels of music training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory; these links extend beyond the domain of music training.
4. In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation, though not in other forms of numerical representation.
5. Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.
6. Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.
7. Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.
8. Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills.

Now, my gentle readers must know that correlation is not causality so this study doesn't prove that arts education causes higher academic performance; but, these correlations point to areas to research in the future in order to determine causality.

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